Is it Important to Start your Putts Where you Aim your Putter?

February 18th, 2013 by John Graham Leave a reply »

I asked this Question on twitter and Facebook as a poll type question limiting responses to Yes or No. Many wanted to be able to explain their answer but I tried to eliminate that and just get a Yes or No response. As of this writing, the poll has been out for about 4 hours and the results are 50 for No and 35 for Yes.

I find this very interesting as I think it goes to a philosophically different way of approaching things. Those differing thoughts revolve around “this is what the best players actually do” and “this seems theoretically logical”. I don’t know if that is what people are actually thinking but that’s just my guess on it. I was surprised at the evenness of those taking opposing views and it makes me wonder why there is such division on this seemingly simple question.

As I mentioned on Twitter and Facebook, I believe it is important to start your putts where you aim the putter. As you can see from the above results, I am in the minority. I think I understand the idea that the only things that really matter are target, starting line at the target and speed for that line but here’s why I fall on the side I fall on.

The main reason I think it is important to start the ball where you aim it is because it leads to more consistency in terms of read as it relates to look and aim. If a players reads identical putts from opposite sides of the hole differently and can make them, we know they have a situation where they aim it different than where they start it. To me, I think that this can cause conflict and doubt and a preference of one type of putt over another. The big question is can a player tell the difference between aiming 4 inches off the edge vs 8 inches assuming a 2 inch pull bias and a read of 6 inches? I think they can and I think this difference should be avoided.

One of the arguments for why it’s not important is that no tour player does it or that no player does it. Let’s talk about the first one first. I’m not sure it is appropriate to use Tour Players as the model for the best putters. Certainly the model for the best golfers but might be a stretch using them as the best putters. Recent papers have been trying to show that ball striking is more important than putting at the highest levels so that would certainly support not using tour players as the model for the best putters. If the papers are accurate, then Tour players are the best ball strikers as that weighs more heavily in their success. Quite fair to say they are the best putters among the best hitters.

The other piece of no one doing it is worthy of discussion as well. The thing I would like to see is do the best putters currently have a higher propensity to have an aim and start that are closer to each other than those that don’t. I think we would all agree that at some point the difference between aim and start would cause issues if it was too large. I’m curious where you all think that line is. What is the outer limit of aim and start difference that still allows for putting success as being defined by makes? I also think it’s fair to say that there is some range of aim and start that is not exactly starts where they aim that would be appropriate and depending on where that line was might change some people’s answers. With that being said, I don’t know who would be the best model for putting skill.

In a world where exact targets can be predicted to be accurate I think the ability to start the ball where you aim it will become more important especially for the reason I mentioned above about read conflict. It’s possible that only those that use a system for target prediction will work toward an aim and start harmony and I for one will be very interested to see what the future holds.

I know there are many out there that think it is completely unnecessary and I understand their viewpoints without accepting them. In my poll I originally limited responses to Yes or No. Please use the comment section below to expand on your answer if you wish to do so or to leave a comment about my thoughts above. Please consider sharing this as well to get as many opinions as possible on this very divisive issue.

Look forward to reading your thoughts.

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12 comments

  1. Jared Shears says:

    John I agree with you. I answered no with *** because I was thinking similar to you. As a professional Edel fitter I know 90% of golfers don’t aim the putter where they intend to be aiming. So if they aren’t aimed properly then starting a ball on that line is not good.

  2. Stan Sayers says:

    John,
    Great topic! I thoght about this poll question and then forgot to answer. My answer is yes. While I agree that there are great putters who don’t do this and that the ball needs to start on the intended line which is what these players do…If I can aim at my intended target and start the ball on that line my percentages will be much greater. 1. There will be less face manipulation which not only affects direction but also distance control. 2. The stroke will match the intended aim increasing percentages, commitment and confidence. 3. More consistent putting day after day. I don’t want to rely on just feel when feel can change. I want my feel to be so heightened by my consistency that I know when I’ve made an unwanted change to some fundamental in my putting.

  3. Tony Wright says:

    Certainly a good question John. I base my comments on the data that is the basis for the SAM PuttLab metrics, which I think has some credibility.

    The best putters in the world aim pretty well but are, I believe, more concerned about where their putter face is pointed at impact. They can “live” with not being perfect on aim, as long as their aim is not too bad. Too bad probably is, in my opinion, something like more than 1 degree of aim error at address. The more aim error at address the more the compensation necessary and the more difficult it is to compensate consistently.

    The issue of aim at address becomes more of a problem with players who are not at tour pro level. I know you are aware of Edel putters and their fitting system, and their data suggests that about 80 to 90% of golfers cannot aim at the hole from 6 feet away. I have seen golfers aim 8 to 15 inches away from the hole from 6 feet. These folks have to make huge compensations that are difficult to lock in to get the putter back to square at impact.

    A large part of their problem is that they have no idea that they have an aim bias, they think they can aim their putters at the hole. They pick up a putter that “feels” good but most likely one that they cannot aim. So internally they are adjusting, and often not too well.

    So my answer. Aim at address important for everyone. For tour pros who can keep aim bias within 1 degree – less still better – face at impact and consistent stroke become most important. For “mortal” putters aim can become a huge issue that affects the stroke and ability to hole putts.

  4. Will Parsons says:

    I once played a lot of golf with a friend who aimed way left of the correct line. Anyone who played with him noticed it and often commented on it. He would aim left, start the putter swinging on the line he aimed, and then he opened the putter precisely the amount necessary at impact to start the putt on the correct line. He was a very good putter… so good you would want him on your team in team events.

    I don’t know what he was seeing when he read a putt, but I suspect he saw the line perfectly. And he knew how the ball would leave the putter face to start the ball on that line. Aiming the putter face accurately was not part of his putting equation.

    After watching my friend, I’ve always believed that aim is a product of how we swing the putter. If our stroke opens the face, we learn to aim left, and if our stroke reaches impact closed, we learn to aim right to compensate. Aim becomes a compensation for any inability to square the face precisely at impact. We think we are aiming properly when we really aren’t. Just my thoughts.

  5. John Boles says:

    The No situation seems to involve a lot of compensating errors in order to make putts. I just don’t see how that translates into confidence and consistent success.

  6. Wow, not only are we going to teach..er, coach people to flip through impact( I say coach because no one has seemed to come up with the actual method on how to actually teach it. They just hypothesize on it but never give us the “how to”.So now we’re going to have guys aiming 20 to 30% away from their target and wiping back on line. Perfect! Just so they can do it at a 70% clip.

    If any of you want to learn how to teach someone how to aim, I know a guy. ;-p

  7. Ed Teer says:

    This seems like the age old question of form or function.

    My answer to the question at hand would would be no.

    My method has continued to evolve based on Essential Skills. What skills do the best players display regardless of method. When it comes to putting, my opinion is there are four Essential Skills.

    1. Pre-swing: setup is consistent in regards to posture, grip, and alignment.
    2. Speed Control.
    3. Roll ball on intended line.
    4. Interpret the greens.

    If a player tests as skillful, who am I to change them?

    If they don’t test as skillful then they learn learn my essential skills. At this point I would say it is best to roll the ball on the same line that the putter is pointed.

    Image being the student who tests as skillful and shoots great scores but pulls every putt to make them. They come to me and I say, “To be the best you HAVE to start the ball on the line your putter is aimed!” We achieve the goal and his handicap goes up, he tests as less skillful and he continually removes himself from contention. I think this scenario is how we have to judge our answer to the question. We can debate all day, however it is the students success that validates our answer. Our job is not to be correct but to help the student improve.

  8. I answered “no,” but I think I read too much into the question.

    I try to start all my putts where I aim my putter as I try to aline the line on the ball to the line I want to start the putt and then I align my putter face perpendicular to that line on the ball. Hopefully that gets me somewhere close to my intended line.

    That said, I answered “no” because I figured it wasn’t important to do that. An example would be something I just read about Tiger Woods and how his putter face is open at address (can’t remember how many degrees; a few if I remember right) and his “release of the toe” that he’s always talking about is what pulls the ball back on the line he intended. So, here’s an example of arguably the best putter in the game who doesn’t start his putts where his face is aimed but a lot of his putts find the button of the cup.

    That’s why I answered no. Sure, in a perfect world, you’d always want your face to match your line, but is it “important?” Maybe not since people are able to putt without doing it.

  9. Rick says:

    This is amazing question as I am sure not many consider it. I find it hard to imagine not hitting it down the line. Even if you are hitting at some different face angle at contact your hitting down the aim line if your going to make it that is. So enjoying all the discussion.

  10. Thomas b. Noonan, Jr.. says:

    As a player, I say yes. I consider every putt a six inch putt. I want to aim six inches away and hit the ball on the line. However, as a teacher/coach, I need to be able to understand my student/player and tread lightly on his subject. If they are willing to practice, and work at getting better, I give them a putting string to practice with to give them the correct feedback for proper aim and start. Another great tool that I use is the zen oracle, the putter with the hole in the head. You hit a ball with the putter and release another ball at the target. Most people swing on a different path then the club is aimed, and the two balls go in different directions.

    With that being said, statistics don’t lie. So if they make a lot of putts, and the ball starts in a different direction from where they aim. I don’t mess with that, and make sure they don’t think about it. My focus with them leaves the clubhead and focuses more on them rolling the ball on their intended line.

  11. Dom DiJulia says:

    Great question John…here is my take. The related skill is starting the ball in the intended direction. If a player can do that with either inaccurate or inconsistent aim, move on and address other skills like speed and green reading…BUT… My observation, is that most golfers can’t do so. Players who aim a certain amount off line consistently, say 1.5 degrees closed, may be successful at opening the face or looping the path to get the ball on their line at certain distances but the key is THEY CAN’T DO IT AT ALL DISTANCES. As far as the inconsistent aimers, I have found their ability to effectively manipulate their stroke to get the ball on line is not surprisingly: inconsistent. They can do it brilliantly at times and for stretches of time but not consistently. Long short short: I vote for training and getting fit to aim where you want to roll the ball for 99.9% of golfers because there simply are not that many players who get get the ball on their intended line at all lengths with all breaks.

  12. Noonan!Noonan!
    Nice take ;-)
    ROLLING the ball on the intended line is where it’s at. Certainly there are some static and dynamic fundamental components that contribute to a better stroke which consequently leads to a better roll, but the ability to get the ball started on line is key to making more putts IMO.

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